Earlier this year, from the 18th to 24th of May 2020 was Mental Health Awareness week, as hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, with the theme of kindness. The Mental Health Foundation says,
“We all have so much going on in our lives, including competing strains and stresses – not to mention the current coronavirus pandemic. This can see kindness pushed to one side, in favour of what is urgent or trending now. .. but if we take the time to be kind to other people, we can reap the emotional dividends. It can really make a difference and especially for people who are vulnerable or struggling. ”
Awareness of the scale of mental health issues is growing rapidly, and with that follows the need to increase our understanding of how people experiencing mental ill health can be supported in the workplace. A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that around 74% of adults in the UK have felt so overwhelmed with stress, they’ve been unable to cope; with 32% left feeling suicidal. Millions of people across the country regularly experience high levels of stress which is damaging to their health.
Promoting stress awareness
National Stress Awareness Day was founded by The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) and is observed on the first Wednesday of November every year; as a day to identify stress factors, and reduce stress factors in your life whether they are work, home, family, relationship, health or financially related. Some tips to help reduce stress, as well as enhance wellbeing and performance at work are to develop a healthy routine such as going for a walk; taking a pause throughout the day to take deep calming breaths; learning breathing, mindfulness and meditation techniques; and trying to get more exercise through the week. The UK mental health charity, Mind also offers information and support to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety can become debilitating for some people and is a significant factor in mental health problems. It can also be linked to physical health conditions such as a weakened immune system, heart disease, digestive problems and insomnia. The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) encourages employees to address their mental health issues by getting the valuable support they need.
Promoting mental health awareness
The EAP offers employees at all levels, the opportunity to access free and confidential health and wellbeing services. The EAP encourages positive attitudes towards mental health and plays a key role in an organisations commitment to supporting their workforce through encouraging staff to seek the help and support they need.
EAPs provide organisations with the opportunity to improve employee health and wellbeing and improve mental health awareness. EAPs allow employers to gain a better understanding of the issues that impact on mental health, both in the workplace and the wider community.
Prioritising employee wellbeing
There are common misconceptions surrounding mental health issues. The social stigma attached to mental health can often mean people are reluctant to ask for the help and support they may desperately need; but through the EAP, a line-manager, HR or even just a colleague, can support colleagues and make a referral to the EAP if they feel appropriate. Immediate family members can also access the available services.
Employees and their families can use the free and confidential helpline at any time of the day or night to speak to a specialist counsellor or advisor. The counsellors are trained to give support on a range of areas such as stress, mental health and medical concerns. They can also provide legal and financial support. Many people find that they can resolve their problems with one or two phone calls. However, if required, they can also have face-to-face sessions with counsellors or if there’s a medical issue, they can be referred to their GP.
Using EAP to support self-care
If you are an employee and would like some advice and support, your EAP is there to help at any time of the day, free of charge. The EAP service is confidential and all EAP advisors and counsellors follow the Professional Code of Practice, so your employer will not know you have used the EAP service.
When it comes to managing your exposure to stress, there are things you can do to help take care of your mental health while at work. Taking regular breaks away from your desk, preferably outside, is an effective way to manage stress and remain calm. It’s also important that you get plenty of rest, take regular exercise and develop a good social support network to lean on.
Further HR Support
Watch the webinar recording ‘5 Ways Managers Can Help Support Mental Health at Work’, to get some practical HR advice.
This article was first published on 22 October 2019 and updated on 18 May 2020 and 23 July 2020.